An Interview with Narrative 4 Artist, Deborah Taffa

This month, to celebrate International Women’s History Month, we’ve asked our staff to nominate some of the amazing women working within the Narrative 4 community, to uplift their work and express our sincere appreciation for their commitment to N4’s core beliefs. These women truly embody compassionate change-making in the world and are doing the work to build support and connection in their communities.

Deborah Taffa

This post is an interview with Deborah Taffa, N4 Artist and one of our nominees! A citizen of the Quechan (Yuma) Nation and Laguna Pueblo, Deborah is a storyteller at heart. Director of the MFA in Creative Writing program at the Institute of American Indian Arts, she recently released her first memoir, Whiskey Tender, a piece that details her experience as an Indigenous woman coming of age in a country with painful ties to her heritage. Deborah’s belief in the power of storytelling as a means of social change and community service aligns perfectly with the principles of Narrative 4. In May of 2023, Deborah sat down with N4’s President, Colum McCann, at the Santa Fe International Literary Festival to discuss the power of storytelling in building compassion through perspective-sharing. 

In conversation with Deborah

What’s the most important thing we should know about you?

I’m the MFA CW director at the Institute of American Arts, and my memoir, WHISKEY TENDER, just debuted with HarperCollins! Oprah Daily declared it “a coming-of-age memoir that tackles nothing less than the birth of a nation.” The book is a reclamation that honors my Kwatsaan (Yuma) and Laguna Pueblo Ancestors.

What excites you about the work of Narrative 4? What drew you to this work? Why does it matter?

I felt drawn to Narrative 4 because the community understands the power of language. My Indigenous traditions teach that we weave our world with stories, much as Narrative 4 uses storytelling as a catalyst for understanding. By interacting with youth, Narrative 4 is planting seeds in an oppositional world. Listening requires patience, and the organization is cultivating it as a skill wherever it goes.

Can you share a brief story about a time when your work with N4 felt especially impactful?

I had the honor of interviewing Colum McCann at the Santa Fe International Literary Festival. I was wowed by his intense passion and incredible focus. True artists have humility, and I liked the way he serves as a witness in his books. He taught me that creativity isn’t a trait or a talent so much as it is a practice and a discipline. Stories come through the writer to affect readers minds, hearts, and perspectives.

Read our interviews with other nominees and participate in our International Women’s History month campaign here!